As rivals go in the Big Ten's West Division, the Gophers' first and foremost are Wisconsin and Iowa, teams they've played a combined 246 times, building animosity through frequency and proximity.
Since Nebraska's move to the Big Ten in 2011, the Gophers and Cornhuskers have had memorable matchups, butting heads 11 times with Minnesota winning six. The Gophers have become West title contenders while Big Red has floundered under Mike Riley and Scott Frost.
However, don't sleep on the budding rivalry between the Gophers and Purdue, Minnesota's homecoming opponent on Saturday. Coaches P.J. Fleck and Jeff Brohm ascended to their current posts beginning in the 2017 season, and Fleck's name even was tied to the Boilermakers job before Brohm accepted it in December 2016.
While the Gophers have won four consecutive in the series, the past two meetings have been tight. Minnesota won 34-31 in Minneapolis in 2020, with the Boilermakers' would-be winning touchdown pass wiped out by an offensive pass interference penalty that sent Brohm into a rage. Last year, the Gophers won 20-13 in West Lafayette, Ind., blanking the Boilermakers in the second half, capped by Tyler Nubin's last-minute interception of Aidan O'Connell's pass.
"The more I'm in this league, you feel like every week's a rivalry,'' said Fleck, who's in his sixth year at Minnesota. "It can go either way every single Saturday. It's such a competitive league.''
For the Gophers, things have been going swimmingly so far this season. They're 4-0 and ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25 after dismantling Michigan State 34-7 in the Big Ten opener in East Lansing last week. Minnesota has outscored its opponents 183-24 with an offense that routinely drives 75 yards for touchdowns and possesses the ball for more than 40 minutes and a defense that's allowing opponents only 10.5 first downs per game, the fewest in the nation.
Brohm is impressed.
"No one has really come close to them,'' he said. "They've dominated in four games. When people have scored, it's been against the backups at the end of the game, so this team is really playing efficient football right now.''
The Boilermakers have struggled from the start against a tougher schedule than the Gophers have faced. Purdue opened with a 35-31 home loss to Penn State and dropped a 32-29 decision at unbeaten Syracuse. They edged Florida Atlantic 28-26 last week with O'Connell sidelined because of an undisclosed injury.
Brohm told Purdue reporters on Thursday that O'Connell will be a game-time decision. If he can't play, the start will go to Austin Burton, who passed for 166 yards and three touchdowns last week.
Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi considers O'Connell as a top-five quarterback in the country and is preparing his team to face the sixth-year senior.
"Coach Brohm does a great job with the offense,'' Rossi said. "He's a great quarterback coach, and he's a great evaluator. So, rest assured anyone who goes in that game to play quarterback at Purdue is going to be more than capable.''
As usual, Purdue has a go-to receiver in the mold of Rondale Moore and David Bell. This year, it's Iowa transfer Charlie Jones, who leads the nation with 41 receptions and seven TD catches.
"He plays way above how big he is,'' Fleck said of the 6-foot, 188-pounder whose 72-yard TD catch gave Iowa the lead for good in a 27-22 win over the Gophers last year. "He catches the ball contested maybe as good as anybody in the Big Ten right now. … Watching him as a punt returner you get to know his personality. He doesn't ever fair catch the ball, doesn't matter who is around.''
While Brohm's offense vs. Rossi's defense brings spice to this matchup, the Purdue coach is well aware of what Fleck and offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca are doing on that side of the ball.
"You've got to figure out a way to put them in more passing situations than they would like,'' Brohm said. "Because if you don't, they're in control of the game. They have been very, very effective doing that.
"They make you bleed,'' he added. "They make you bleed, and if you don't find a way to bandage it up or do something to strike back, it can be a long death.''